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Eight, Among the Innumerable, Ways Sparhawk Benefits Your Child

Louise Stilphen, Headmaster & Founder

Kids Keep Their Sparkle at Sparhawk:

three young boys making a fort in the woods

Sparhawk is a joyful school experience. Curiosity is, after all, the human default setting. We are hard-wired to enjoy inquiry, discovery, analysis - to question everything. We are designed to enjoy challenges and to savor well-earned achievement. Effort and success form a reinforcing feedback loop, so something has gone terribly wrong when the default becomes fear or indifference. Sadly, some outsiders have commented that the concept of a joyful school seems oxymoronic to them. “I endured school,” many say. Tell me, how did such a terrible thing come to pass?

Environments that wring the life out of learning soon discover that children come equipped with an emotional rheostat. In the wrong setting, enthusiasm for learning dims and anxiety increases. At Sparhawk, we bring joy into a child’s learning. We help students maintain or recover their brightest settings and the rheostat is reset to what is the child’s birthright. I am referring here to a summary assessment of satisfaction with school. Of course, there will be times when a student may not be optimally happy or even, momentarily, successful. We work to strike a balance between challenge and support and we encourage self-advocacy every step of the way. Resilience blossoms; pride and confidence follow successful work achieved at the frontier of challenge. Ultimately, these give rise to joy. Year after year parents who have had their children in other places tell us, “I feel like I have my child back."

Human Scale:

Sparhawk School is small by design. We gather together in proportions that have made sense to humans through all of time - that is, in ideal group sizes where individuals can know everyone and be known by them. It was only in the 1960s that mega-schools began to emerge on the scene in The United States, and they were designed that way for financial reasons, certainly not educational ones. They are simply too large. Not only are group sizes too large, but the aggregate number of people creates a degree of depersonalization. And, that is exactly the opposite of what is best for young humans. 

Sparhawk’s size allows your child to be known and supported, emotionally and academically, by devoted adults - not just their advisor/homeroom teacher, but the entire staff. Students are held in a gaze-frame that assures that they will not be lost, even if they were to try to hide. Sparhawk’s size also makes connections with peers easier. Small classes facilitate comfort that extends into community time where friendships flourish.

Imagine that the school is a garden and the teachers gardeners:

Sparhawk is a colorful and multi-textured French country garden, full of expected and, even better, serendipitous effect of startlingly beauty. 

Nurturance: We know your child

a Sparhawk teacher and two young students smiling for the camera

This is one of two primary values at Sparhawk School. Very small group sizes allow your child to receive all the attention they deserve. They allow teachers to become “ experts" on the children in their care; knowledgeable about what skills to enhance; what knowledge-base to enrich; how to cultivate the student’s ability to analyze and integrate what they are learning into an ever-richer academic base. Sparhawk teachers can anticipate the journey ahead, for each child, and set the stage for what is coming next, academically and emotionally. Students who feel deeply and accurately perceived and cared for are naturally more secure and motivated. Maintaining tender regard for our students is not only a primary Sparhawk value, it is a sacred trust. We are proudest of our achievement in this area. It is the foundation for everything else. 

How, you ask, do we achieve such glorious effect in our garden? 


We don't plant solely in rows, nor do we limit ourselves to common varieties and usual color palettes. We have a staple of hearty traditional as well as thriving and/or evolving mavericks. Each blossom is special in its own way and adds to the whole. Each is nurtured according to its individual needs. 


Great Kids - A diverse variety

Woven together = Great Community: 

Many different kinds of learners do well at Sparhawk School. To name a few: Students who are ready for a degree of responsible independence and those who need support; students who march to the beat of their own drummer and those who have yet to find their stride: students with minor learning challenges and those who are starving for challenge; anxious children; leaders; linear thinkers, divergent thinkers; all genders; students who need to regain enthusiasm for learning; those bursting with enthusiasm; introverts; extroverts, and on it goes. Most importantly, what they have in common is a high level of kindness towards one another. A Sparhawk student writes, "Sparhawk is a shelter for some, a place of freedom for others. A Sparhawk parent summed it up succinctly, “Sparhawk is a wonderful place to grow up.” 

Some varieties were grown in our own greenhouse, Some came to us from other fine establishments, Still others were brought to us a little wilted from struggling in gardens that were too crowded or too limited in nutrients. Some were hidden away behind boisterous others who stole the light and overwhelmed, temporarily, the potential in the tender seedling. Our gardeners helped each one reveal and sustain its own true beauty. 


A tour of our garden reveals the mixture of varieties, some contributing the drama of bold color and hue, counterbalanced by timid species of exquisite subtlety. Some are tall and ranging in effect, while others form a foundation of color and texture that frames the rest.

Certainly no one is like another, yet they co-exist harmoniously in our garden, bringing out the best in one another and everyone around them. That is central to the beauty of our garden. 

Sparhawk, A Harbor, A Haven

This is not an easy time to grow up. The dominant culture right now is a hodgepodge of weakly or negatively defined values and our children are vulnerable in the absence of an alternative. Never has there been a population of young people so at a loss for meaning and purpose; never have so many suffered such chronic and acute anxiety. At Sparhawk we offer our students an antidote to the messages implicit in that world view. We help students develop a life philosophy and ethic that will sustain them in their personal lives and in the hurricane-force winds of world events. 

A value is that which one takes action to gain or keep, and once explicit, values serve as anchors and guides to action when the way is not clear. And the way is not always clear. People guided by principles can proceed confidently in life. In turn, confidence endows happiness and happiness fuels purpose; it is the source of the energy needed to endeavor towards worthy goals.

In the Sparhawk Credo, and in daily interactions, students internalize guidelines for a better life in a better world - a world worth working for and in which to achieve. We help students become reflective about their actions and to become efficacious. We bring a world perspective, but also emphasize each person’s responsibility to take the best care we can of the people close to us, in environments where we can have a direct and positive influence. If we do this well, the world awaits.


Beyond This Week’s Test

three children looking at a computer

We are preparing students for their successful future. Whether at school or at work, above all, the future requires (and rewards) motivated and fully engaged participants who take initiative and responsibility for themselves. From the beginning, at Sparhawk, at every level of development, PreK - HighSchool, our purpose is to encourage age-appropriate levels of responsibility and agency. The degree of ownership that a student can take, or the degree of dependence that they need varies with each child, but a Sparhawk teacher's job is to keep each child balanced at the cusp of his or her ever-growing ability to take what a recent Harvard study called "purposeful initiative.” Agency is the opposite of helplessness. The study concludes that the development of agency is as important an outcome of schooling as basic skills acquisition. We not only assure students that our students can be agents of change, we provide opportunities for them practice this skill in their world at Sparhawk and for their futures.


"​Sparhawk gives you opportunities, freedom, and the support to take advantage of them... The fundamental aspect of Sparhawk's multifaceted existence isn't about sitting back and experiencing things. Sparhawk is about doing things. To all of the students who are coming back next year,…take advantage of it. Put something in."

~2013 Sparhawk graduate

Critical and Creative Thinking - Nobody does it better!

a male student working on a robot

Another of our paramount goals is helping students enrich their skills kit with critical and creative tools that enable them to access knowledge and understanding at ever-increasing levels of sophistication. We are very successful at this as college admissions’ data proves. 

Although memorization of facts is an important part of an education, from the earliest years, Sparhawk students are encouraged to work beyond the level of concretes. They do more than memorize discrete facts and regurgitate information. They learn that knowledge is complex and that truth is hard to come by, let alone wisdom! 

The quest for understanding, ultimately, requires abstract, conceptual thinking and it requires practice at every developmental level. Learning to think clearly is vital to our children and the world they are inheriting, for the more important the ramifications of one’s conclusions, the more important the intellectual tools. Nobody does this kind of curriculum better than we do. 

What is the Proof in this Philosophical Pudding? (Does A Sparhawk Education Measure Up?)

Did you know that:

7 Sparhawk Graduates rom the class of 2019 in purple robes.
  • 100% of our high school graduates are accepted to four-year colleges and universities
  • 96% of them are accepted to at least one of their top three schools of choice

Scholarship Grants and Financial Aid

Graduation Classes 2016-2019 -- a total of 75 students received:

  • 5.5 Million dollars in college-based scholarships
  • 1.8 Million dollars in financial aid
  • 7.2 Million dollars total in Federal Loans and Grants